We have noted before, that the Coast Guard is using Webber class WPCs more like Medium Endurance Cutters than like “Fast Response Cutters” here, here, and here. No where have their capabilities been pushed harder than in the 14th District in the Central and Western Pacific.
Increased illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in US and neighboring island EEZs, US obligations under the Compact of Free Association, and desire to avoid the destruction of fisheries resources essential to the properity of the region has resulted in a need to push these little ships into remote areas of the Pacific.
Marine Link has a report about the use of Webber class FRCs for long distance patrols in the Western Pacific. This is a particularly good report in that it records not only the successes, but also the limitations that worry the crews on these demanding deployments.
Food and Fuel are major concerns
The nominal range for the Webber class WPCs is 2500 nautical miles (nmi) at 14 knots. Attempting to stretch that range requires some compromises. Fuel margins have proven adequate, but they are thin and running engines at their most economical speed takes a toll. The need to minimize fuel consumption to make the great distancces requires running the engines at low RPM,
Sabatini said that the lower speed poses some other problems for the engines. “The diesels are really designed to operate at higher RPMs. When we were going for a week to ten days at a relatively slow speed, the carbon isn’t getting blown out. So, I was worried about that build up, and concerned about replacing injectors at a high rate than normal.”
It also means that almost any diversion, weather avoidance, or even adverse weather will cut into that margin.
The nominal endurance is five days. As built there is simply not enough storage space for food.
“We had extra freezers and reefers on the bridge and out of the mezzanine deck.”
I presume the mezzanine deck is the clear area between the bridge and the Mk38 gun mount that is marked for vertical replenishment. When I got to tour the Bailey Barco (WPC-1122) while it was enroute to Alaska, there was a lot of gear stowed on deck in that area. Apparently that worked, but I can imagine situations where the seas might wash some gear stowed there over the side.
I have also heard that the on-board laundery facilities are inadequate for prolonged patrols.
So far, most of these long Webber class deployments seem to have been accompanied by a larger cutter, but I got the impression from the post that that may be changing since the Webber class have proven their ability to make the voyages unsupported.
The lack of any onboard medical assistance is also worrysome. The report notes this as a danger to the crewmembers, but it also means the ship is not well equipped to provide medical assistance if required in a SAR case. The possible distance from shoreside medical facilities may also mean they would have to maintain a 10 knot economical speed rather than being able to go to speed to the nearest shore facility.
That the Webber class have proven capable of doing these missions comes as a pleasant surprise because they would not normally be our first choice for covering these great distances. What might we do to make these missions less challenging?
We might base some of the OPCs in the Hawaii or Guam. This may be possible specifically because the Webber class have proven capable of performing missions previously handled by Atlantic Area WMECs. That is probably desirable in the long term, but there is a more immediate solution. Base two, or preferably three, Webber class in American Samoa.
A base in Pago Pago, American Samoa would make unneccessary any routine transits longer than the nominal five day endurance and more than 2000 nmi that are now required to reach parts of the US EEZ and Western Pacific Island nations. A base in Pago Pago would put these ships within less than five days and less than 1500 nmi of Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu (1260 nmi), Tarawa (1373 nmi) and New Caladonia (1416 nmi).